The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, 2021.
Directed by Will Sharpe.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Sharon Rooney, Aimee Lou Wood, Hayley Squires, Stacy Martin, and Taika Waititi.
The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wayne, and the legacy he created.
Ever since his brilliant turn as British super sleuth Sherlock Holmes, in the critically acclaimed BBC TV show Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch has been an unstoppable force of nature. From being cast as the MCU’s magic dabbling Sorcerer Supreme to garnering critical acclaim for Jane Campion’s pastoral psychological drama The Power of the Dog last year, the talented Brit has carved a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after performers. One of Cumberbatch’s singular talents is his innate ability to completely disappear into whatever role he chooses to take on, be it in a big budget blockbuster or modestly financed indie film, there is no doubt about the man’s commitment to his craft. It’s nothing short of amazing. 2021 was a fairly busy year for Cumberbatch, starting with Kevin Macdonald’s heart-rending, real-life tale The Mauritanian, he then lent his vocal talents to Marvel’s multiversal animated extravaganza What If…? and followed it up with Campion’s poignant revisionist Western The Power of the Dog. And it’s somewhere between the productions of the aforementioned that Cumberbatch decided to take on the role of playing eccentric British artist Louis Wain, in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.
The film follows the journey of the socially inept Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he metamorphoses from virtual unknown to worldwide sensation, due to the surging popularity of his drawings of anthropomorphized cats and kittens, which changed the way society viewed felines at the time. In between he falls in love with his sister’s governess Emily (Claire Foy), gets disowned by his family, travels to America at the invitation of William Randolph Hearst and suffers multiple mental breakdowns. In short, the film is quite the emotional rollercoaster ride and it’s all thanks to the exceptionally layered performance dished out by Cumberbatch.
Within a span of a year, the talented actor has showcased the enormous range he possesses. In The Power of the Dog, he was the very embodiment of toxic masculinity whilst in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, he plays an introverted, emotionally fragile eccentric. It is a performance that will definitely tug at your heart strings and leave you close to tears in certain moments. The character’s poor business acumen leaves the family in considerable financial distress over and over, yet you feel nothing but sympathy for the tortured, vulnerable soul played by Cumberbatch. Casting Claire Foy (First Man) alongside Cumberbatch was a masterful move that pays enormous dividends. She is the delicate counterbalance that keeps things steady and focused in their rocky lives. The onscreen chemistry the duo share feels both authentic and beautiful, and because of this the intimate moments between them are far more compelling and powerful. Andrea Riseborough (Possessor) shines as the constantly disapproving yet loving sister Caroline, and Toby Jones (Infinite) is equally memorable as Louis’ sympathetic employer Sir William Ingram. There are some surprising cameos as well, featuring Taika Waititi, Nick Cave, Julian Barratt and Richard Ayoade namely, which offer a few moments of unintended levity especially during some of the film’s more serious scenes.
Up until this point Will Sharpe’s efforts have been primarily confined to the small-screen, with dark comedies such as Flowers and Landscapers. So, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is pretty much his first foray into a large-scale movie production. For any director it’s a daunting challenge to switch up from doing small-scale indie films to something bigger, but Sharpe succeeds admirably in the task, delivering a thoroughly engaging albeit refreshingly different biographical drama. What the films accomplishes quite successfully is to give the audience a glimpse into Louis Wain’s beautifully chaotic, deeply troubled mind. You ‘feel’ each and every one of his wildly erratic emotional states through the stunning visuals, and DOP Erik Wilson’s kaleidoscopic cinematography plays a pivotal role in this process. Some scenes are simply magical to behold. Will Sharpe’s brother Arthur provides a bittersweet, poignant score that is equal parts traditional and unconventional. The ideal companion piece to this touching, idiosyncratic story.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain will break your heart. It is a thoughtfully crafted, emotional portrait of a sensitive artist who defied norm and convention to birth a legacy that is unique in every sense of the word.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is available to own now on early digital release and on DVD & Blu-ray from Monday 21st March.
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.